The Home of the Brave? Not My House.

A few weeks ago, a fellow book-clubber asked me how my friend search was going. I told her I’d been busier than ever, meeting every potential BFF that would have me. Then she said something that totally caught me by surprise.

She said, “You’re so brave.”

I think my actual reaction was to laugh out loud. Me? Brave? No. What I am, really, is the type of person who will spend Friday night on the couch lamenting my lack of local best friends while doing nothing about it. The type of person who will continue along that road, complaining about something while taking few steps to fix it, until I make a promise to The Internets that I am going to make a change. Because once it’s out there in cyberspace, there’s no taking it back (at least in theory).

Courageous is not a word people use to describe me. Silly, maybe. Friendly, I hope (at least by now). Snippy when she’s tired or hungry, for sure. But the only other time in my life I can remember being called brave was when my father was dying. A high school friend emailed me. He, too, said, “You’re so brave,” which I recall only because I remember thinking “I am? What did I do other than curl up on a hospital couch for three days, smelly and unshowered and unspeakably sad? I’m not brave, I just have no choice.”

But anyway, this isn’t about that. This is about how someone called me courageous for doing something little kids do every day.  And I don’t even really do what they do. They walk up to strangers and say, “Hello, I’m Rachel, will you be my friend? You can come over my house. My mom makes good cookies.”

I say something more like “Um, hey, would you, um, maybe want to grab a bite sometime? Or a drink? I can work around your schedule, but, yeah, it’s totally cool if you’re too busy.” I’ll show you courage.

(I hope to one day work up to the kid version. My mom does make good cookies.)

Still, I know there are people who think some of the things I do—going to dinner with total strangers, asking a novelist out, not attacking Joan Rivers in a fit of Oscar hysteria—show some level of bravery. Because putting myself out there means I could be rejected. People might—and sometimes do—think I’m crazy. I’ve gotten enough emails from readers that start with “I can’t believe I’m writing you, this is really weird,” to know that for many of us, blindly reaching out to a potential new friend is scarier than asking out a potential mate.

And it’s too bad, isn’t it? Shouldn’t extending friendship be standard? It’s hardly Purple Heart worthy.  Yet sometimes these little gestures—these moments of vulnerability—feel much more courageous than going skydiving or speaking in public. (I said sometimes. I would never skydive and I get all awkward and shaky when speaking in public… but for some people…)

What is it about reaching out to potential friends that scares us? Why are kids so good at it, but adults sometimes so awkward or uncomfortable? And do you think the cookie pickup line would work?

52 Comments

Filed under The Search

52 responses to “The Home of the Brave? Not My House.

  1. Jen

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and it has actually inspired me to do some reaching out (admittedly to people I already know) of my own. So thank you for the inspiration!!

    I think that part of it is that when you are telling other people about what you’re doing (whether it is writing it on your blog or face to face), generally they tend to get an idealised impression of what your life/you are really like. They don’t know what is going on inside your head every time you get the courage to ask someone to get drinks or whatever.

    I also think that thinking that someone else is brave gives you an excuse for not doing it yourself – she is doing this, but she’s a really brave person, so it must come naturally to her. I’m a coward, so I could never do it! I do it a LOT myself.

    The way that you write in this blog, though, seems to make it clear that this isn’t easy for you, and as it has inspired me to try to make the most of friendships that I already have, I’m sure it is inspiring other people! Thank you!

    (I hope this comment made sense! I tend to ramble)

    • I think that’s a great point… calling someone brave makes it easier to not do something ourselves, as you say. “Oh, she can do because she’s brave.” Fascinating..

  2. I’ve always been somewhat appalled at how closed a lot of people are to including people they don’t know. I’ve always operated under the onus, the more the merrier. And yet, my friends (of whom I’ve introduced to one another) rarely return the favor. My friends become friends with one another. And yet, I’m friendly with almost none of their friends. I don’t know if it’s a form of fierce protectionism (fear of losing one’s friends) or just a lack of thought (it just never occurs to them to bring together their friends who otherwise don’t know one another) or pure laziness (let’s face it, it’s hard to organize groups versus just one-on-ones). Whatever the cause, the disease runs rampant … and it’s a shame.

  3. I think it’s because you are your most vulnerable when you step up and say ‘I need you’ to someone else. When we admit we can’t do or fulfill all our needs on our own, we lose a little bit of our control. I think it’s very brave because you show the side of yourself that women of our generation are not usually taught to show – the fact that despite our independence we still need other people. Then we have to show our true selves, warts and all, and hope someone else wants to need us back.

    XO
    Lenore

  4. Ugh. I know. I am trying to get up the courage to go to meetup.com events, like book clubs. Just thinking about it makes my stomach hurt. Why?

    • I went to one, as you know. It’s scary, but worth doing for sure. Worst case scenario all the people are loony.. then you have a great story!

    • Laura

      Hopefully, you’ll check back since this reply is 2+ months late, but, here goes.

      I’ve been the Meetup ‘fraidy cat—still kinda am. Instead of going to an event with an established group, I formed my own. I felt less freaked when I knew no one had pre-existing relationships and I set the group (a book club aimed at chick lit) to be what I wanted. Sure, some attendees clearly didn’t fit, but some became really good friends. Give it a whirl!

      Good luck!

  5. I think there is this whole perception that at a certain age, you should have an established group of friends – so looking for friends has this weird vibe that doesn’t exist when you are 8 years old. Which is pretty ridiculous because people change & lives changes & people move, so we should really continue to make friends throughout life.

    I still think it’s brave of you, though. My friends would tell me I am brave to give my business card or phone number to a potential date. They’d say I am brave to walk up to a guy at a bar and start a conversation. So it’s accurate to say that you are also brave when you do this in an effort to meet a new friend.

  6. We are creatures of habit. I’ve felt stuck in a group of people, all volunteers in a political organization. I have tried to reach out, build bridges to younger people, to help the group grow. My attempts have been met with scorn, misunderstanding, and worse.

    I am breaking free. It is scary, though. Each organization has its own dynamics, which may be startlingly similar to what I’ve encountered before. In this old group, my talents, my desire to help, my unique skills (web design, etc) have been met with the same scorn. When you open yourself up and are hurt, it can be tricky to do it again.

    I admire you!

  7. I think these comments are spot-on. There IS something stomach-turningly nerve-wracking about being the first to make a move.

    It’s scarier as adults because friendship actually means something, whereas when you’re seven and making friends on a playground, all you want is someone to go down the slide with you.

    Okay, maybe that’s all we want as adults, too.

    • Donna

      Julie,

      Well put. That’s exactly what we all want – someone to go down the slide with us. When we are 8 it’s easy to ask because as kids we haven’t yet learned all the rules and social norms about what is and isn’t acceptable as a “grown up”. By the time we are grown up and trying to make new friends outside our pre-determined boxes, we are afraid of our own shadows.

      • Maybe it’s because by the time we have grown up, we are so much more aware of our shortcomings. And when you have tried and tried and don’t know what on earth you are doing wrong, it just gets scarier all the time. I know I’ve wondered what is wrong with me that I find it so difficult to make friends – even though people tell me I’m a warm, outgoing, ‘nice’ person.

        Maybe that’s what the being brave is about – continuing to reach out despite being scared of failure and rejection. And then suddenly you find that hey, how amazing, someone you like being around actually seems to like being around you, as well!

  8. I definitely need to make more friends. If nothing else for practicality. My husband and I are currently preparing our Living Wills and other paperwork. Although it’s optional (you can either have things notarized or have 2 or 3 witnesses), I can’t think of many people I know who are younger than me, that I’m not related to, who could be our witnesses for paperwork. How sad is that?

  9. Leigh

    I agree that it is always hard to reach out yet so important. A while back I heard someone compare forming friendships to dating- you meet for coffee, then you can meet for lunch and then follow up with phone calls/e-mails and then it could turn into a friendship. Just like dating there is always a fear of rejection. So it is a brave thing to reach out and not expect anything in return.

    Does anybody ever think about why it is so easy to connect online but meeting face to face is becoming harder for everyone?

  10. I think kids are less self-conscious, and at least up to a certain age, you assume that everyone will return your gestures of friendship. As adults, we’re caught up in our own neuroses, and so the whole what-if-they-don’t-like-me game becomes a whole lot more real and scary.

    You are brave, though, Rachel. And I admire this whole effort of yours, and am so glad we are blog friends.

  11. Why is it so scary? That’s easy — fear of rejection! Specifically, fear of the stomach-churning, Mean Girls “Nobody likes you, go away” variety that many of us, including myself, endured in middle school. (Seriously, am I the only one for whom trying to make new friends results in flashbacks to middle school? haha)

    I think it’s awkward and uncomfortable to admit you are looking for new friends because of the idea that, by now, we’re all supposed to have our circle of friends set already. So if we don’t, then there must be something wrong with us, all our friends must have run screaming from us at some point, etc.

    Plus, when we were little, we didn’t need too much from our friends — it was enough if you had some vague common interest like Barbies, and your mom made good cookies. It’s not that simple in adulthood, what with all the pressures and life stuff we are all dealing with — but maybe it should be!

    I think you are really brave, not only for putting yourself out there, but also for raising some of these issues in public.

  12. ana

    I fully believe the old saying that courage does not mean you are not afraid, but that you are afraid and do it anyways. So yes, you are brave for putting yourself out there and making the first move even if, ESPECIALLY if, the whole thing makes your stomach hurt.

    On another note, I find it interesting that everyone equates easy friendships to childhood…my experience was different. I was painfully absurdly shy as a child & had a very very hard time making friends, even though I desperately wanted them. when I started high school, I made a real concerted effort to even TALK to people outside of my small group of long-time friends. It was so painful at first, but it was the best thing I ever did, because after a few months of MAKING myself join groups & clubs outside of my comfort zone & talk to classmates(even if I hyperventilated & nearly threw up afterwards), it became easier. I am still considered “quiet” and “shy”, but it is much much better!

    • Thanks Ana. I kind of love that definition. Kind of makes me feel like the scarecrow!

      And love to hear that you forced yourself out of your comfort zone, and it has changed you. Maybe one day I’ll be one of those people who starts conversations with everyone who crosses my path…

  13. Nicole Larsen

    Kids have no fear (aka social awareness?). My son will frequently “accost” random strangers in Wal-Mart, the airport, post office, etc to “show off” his tummy, shoes, anything he’s particularly proud of at that moment.
    I find myself profusely apologizing, but really there has never been anyone who seemed bothered. But to the contrary, most people giggle and melt. “Oh it’s ok, he’s cute. I have a ___-year-old.” I should take advantage, right? “Oh you do? Will you be my friend?” hehe I have no idea how to get from menial convo to a date… Nor do I have the courage. *sigh*

  14. I just found this blog and umm, where have you been all my life? I think I love you. You have my dream career. Here’s a big high five. You rock the casbah.

    On a related note: I am a new mom on the hunt for new mom friends and I can relate. I go to playdates and it’s like speed dating. We should all just get wasted and play Taboo or something. That’s what I’m sayin’.

  15. I love to read what you write. You are so talented with words. And yes, the cookie line would work for me. EVERY TIME.

  16. i love all of the comments and think they are so very true. fear of rejection. vulnerability. putting yourself out there. i have struggled with having friends that get where i am at in life and can support that while at the same time not losing me in the endless complaints of laundry, cooking, and playdates (umm, of course we all need to bring those things up now and then. don’t get me wrong!). it’s not easy. and then just when you think you have one or two good friendships rolling along, someone moves.
    great post, i enjoyed it!

  17. Lynda

    I like that line that an above commenter commented– “courage is not about not being afraid, but being afraid and doing it anyway.” :)

    Kids are so courageous. Kids, they’re so honest and real. I remember being afraid of rejection on the playground, but I asked people to be my friends, anyway. I used to teach preK/kindergarten, and it touches my heart to see these little girls put themselves on the line to secure that one other person to always have to play with, too. How proud they are when they’re able– “Miss Lynda, this is my best-friend”… “Not hers…” Haha. Kids are so good with just throwing themselves out there, because, well, they “live in the moment”. They realize the possibility of being rejected, but they’re so quick to forget and forgive, they’ll give it another go (with the same people) the next day. And, more often, that rejection wasn’t personal (unlike with adults, where they can be), but just a “cranky everyone needed a nap day”. They live in the moment. When they meet someone fun, they don’t think about their past, how they were hurt, the future, or what they should give or shouldn’t. They don’t worry, they don’t weigh all the pros and cons of this individual’s PBFF qualities (to see if things would make sense). They know they won’t hurt each other, and they’ll share their cookies; somehow that’s enough. It doesn’t matter what religion, job, social network, or car the other person has.

    The dynamics between girlfriends (jealousy, insecurities, vulnerability, etc) doesn’t seem to change; except nowadays, we initiate happy hour instead of cookies, and the mall instead of the slides. We’re a tad more tactful, and hide our 5yr old emotions and temper-tantrums so much better. Some of us, at least. ;)

    What scares us (or me at least) about reaching out has never been that initial rejection. I’ll be frank that I’m scared of getting hurt, again. And, hurt again, years later, when I’m already invested at that. I’m scared of giving my time and heart to the BFF, and being let down, or perhaps letting someone else down. I think with age, we need each other even more; but with age we carry with us a lot hurt, that hinders us from opening up and trusting each other. It’s courageous to put yourself out there, because a lot of people simply close up and become super jaded. It’s courageous to be optimistic about human connections (outside of romantic linkings), and to have an appreciation for intimate/life-long friendships. As much as we give and get, as amazing the love and rewards, whenever we allow ourselves to get close to people, we risk getting hurt, too.

    So, it’s courageous to wake up everyday, and keep believing in people, and in BFFs. :)

  18. Lynda

    Btw, so sorry my comments are so long. I’ll cut them down. I think your blog is awesome, and somehow comforting to know there are others of like mind. :)

  19. *Waving hi to you through the computer screen*

    You have no BFF, you say? Me neither. I live in Stepford.

    I’ve never been any good at making friends, and you’re right–kids do it every day. They don’t even hesitate. My oldest daughter will approach any kid at a playground and say, “Hi, I’m D. Want to be friends?”

    Kind of sad when your kid has more cojones than you do.

    • Um…what she said? That one up there above me? TKW aka Miss Awesome? Yeah. Her.

      Me and a local BFF? Nope. Nada. Not-so-very-much. And I’m like in mourning about it. And Jen and I actually had this major IM session a couple of weeks ago where she asked if there were any prospects, and I told her one mom at the soccer games and she’s all like…well bring an “extra” cup of coffee on Saturday and I’m all like…you really think that would work and not be corny…
      omg it goes on and on and then I stop. And I reread it. And all I can think is that I’m the biggest loser mom in my town. Which, while I know is far from true, makes me sad. I love friends. Having friends. Having fun. And I AM FUN, DAMMIT. I swear.

      Ever considered moving to CT? Maybe we could go on a friend-date. How do you like your coffee?

    • “I live in Stepford.” Gosh, Kitch, you make me laugh.

  20. Eva

    Don’t discount yourself, Rachel. It totally takes courage to meet new people! First off, you’re gambling that this new potential-friend isn’t an ax murderer. And you’re opening yourself up to judgment, to uncomfortable interactions. It IS brave!

  21. making new friends is totally brave. it was so much easier on the playground. and come over my mom makes good cookies would so work on me.

  22. I like what you said – “blindly reaching out to a potential new friend is scarier than asking out a potential mate.” I completely agree. I found it no problem to flirt with complete strangers (before I was married, of course). I wouldn’t think twice about chatting with a guy. If he didn’t reciprocate, it didn’t seem to matter so much – he obviously wasn’t “the one” and I’d move on.

    Talking to females, on the other hand, makes me incredibly nervous. I think that if I was rejected from a potential friendship, my feelings would be more hurt. I mean, the reasons a man would not want to date you number in the dozens – he has a girlfriend, he’s not looking for a romantic relationship, he’s gay – but for someone to not want to even be your friend? Ouch. Now that’s scary!

    • Rejection by a guy is so much easier to take because a guy might reject you for totally superficial reasons-but a girl won’t. If a girl rejects you, she’s probably given it more thought, and weighed your qualities as a person and a friend. So there is more at stake with a potential girlfriend, in my opinion.

  23. I have so much trouble making new friends, but I’ve honestly never been good at it. I have this public-speaking fear that stretches even in to friendly conversation. About the only time I can open up and not start blushing and stuttering like a fool is if I’ve had a couple of drinks–and then it’s probably just because I don’t notice. You’re definitely being brave putting yourself out there like this. Bravo to you!

  24. (Not for nothing, but I live in Chicago, too. )
    (and my husband does make an excellent cookie.)
    (but not me. I make sangria.)

  25. I think the hardest part about making friends is breaking the ice. My dear friend, Wolf, recently wrote a delightful post on how to do this –http://divorcedwomenonline.com/2010/04/do-you-know-how-to-work-a-room/

    I am not too scared of introducing myself. I think that becoming a mother has actually made this part easier.

  26. Yeah, I’m waving to you from here too. Hi! No BFF local for me either and it’s not for lack of trying. I just guess I’m too picky? Expect too much? Am too judgemental? I just can’t find anyone here that I really LIKE and feel like spending my precious time “dating”. But boy could I use a bud that i could call over for a cup of coffee or glass of wine. Or call and cry to and know she would come right over. I know it’s out there… and I do have the courage to find her. I just haven’t.

    EXCELLENT post. So so so glad I found you here!

  27. First, just wanted to say this: OMG – ME TOO! (To everything really).

    I would love to have a local BFF (all of mine are scattered all over the place) and have not been very successful in my 10 years here (sad, I know). My 18-month-old has playdates and I just “tag along” – you know to shuttle her to places but with the other parents, it’s always just polite talk. Sometimes I think we’re relieved when our kids become a handful because that way we can just avoid the talking altogether.

    I live in Chicago – so if you are ever in need of a pedicure partner (I’m in dire need of one, unless you judge your friends by their toes, then I’d say they’re in great shape!) – please feel free to reach out. But only if you have cookies. I heard it’s a must these days to get on the BFF fast-track.

  28. I think that people prefer to do what’s safe – and what’s safe is what they already know, even if it’s lonely. I’ve always been someone who tries to reach out and it’s so funny, because sometimes people just don’t know how to respond or have invisible lines drawn in their lives that you can only see after trying to tip toe in a little.

    I’m really excited for June, I’m going on a big road trip and when I’m home I want to make the summer about making new friends and getting my own circle started here after so many people have moved. I’m really excited about it, and you’re making me feel like maybe that’s not really lame. So thanks =)

  29. I think you are brave, because you’ve been making the effort to meet new people and make new friends.
    When I tried online dating, I was scared at first just to send out a “wink” to someone, let alone an e-mail, because I actually felt embarrassed about letting someone know I was interested in him. But even though I didn’t find Mr. Right through online dating, at the same time I don’t regret doing it because I met several guys I wouldn’t have met otherwise. So I know what you mean about being nervous about making the first move, whether it’s to someone you want to date or be friends with.
    It’s too bad they don’t have more websites for online “friending” (or do they?); I have seen some of those personal ads on Craigslist for friends but I’ve never responded to any of them or placed an ad of my own.

  30. Caz

    I’ve done a lot of moving in the last few years (across the country to college, to NZ, back to Canada, and now to Australia) so really the only “best” friends I have are my middle-school friends whom are all still in Canada.

    I’ve been really trying to put myself out there and connect with people here in Melbourne and it’s HARD. I have friends. I have both my boyfriends friends, and my own girl friends. But I don’t have a bff, or close circle whom I can call any day or night. The girl who lived around the corner just moved away. There’s another potential, but I’m not sure how much to push from my end? It’s TOUGH. And full of self-doubt and insecurities etc.

    But I love that you’re writing this blog because I can SO relate.
    xoxo

  31. When my now eight year old daughter was about three years old and we would go a playground she would say to me,”Look mom, new friends!” and then proceed to make them. Friendship is easy if we let it be. Friends are easy to make if we accept the risk of rejection. And three years are the most courageous people I know. Can’t wait to read more about your search!

  32. I think kids make friends easily because they don’t have a filter in their brain that says, “Maybe you shouldn’t do this.” They know that if someone does not want to be their friend, another person will, so it won’t be the end of the world if they don’t like each other. Kid friendships are also a little simpler, built on riding bikes, sleeping over, what kind of cereal you like, and who would win in a fight between superheros. I wish these things were important things between adults, too.

  33. Gosh if this is a challenge I so need to accept it. I am woefully short of local friends and really would love a neary bestie but I find it really hard as an adult to make good friends. There are so many reasons ranging from they already have a giant full group to they are not nice (not everyone is) to our schedules totally conflict and oh – something always happens. This post is great. I have taken the first step too and have started to make an effort. Now I have to follow through and go past the introduction to an invite!

    I am from five for ten and I am so glad I found your blog. I am subscribing!

  34. gfpumpkins

    I haven’t read through the comments, so please forgive me if this is a repeat. I think kids have no problem because they have so much less on the line (or rather, we think we have so much more on the line). They also don’t “know” they should be scared. But this isn’t to say that all kids are like that. I was a quiet kid and was always afraid of rejection (at least as far back as I can remember). My guess is that it has something to do with how we are bought up and how we are taught to think about ourselves. If, like me, you are bought up to think you aren’t ‘enough’, you’re afraid no one thinks you are ‘enough’. It’s a hard mindset for me to get over and I usually have to use my logical brain to deal with it, as if I let my emotions rule, I run away from new potential friends scared.

  35. tommy

    I’ve been called “brave” before and also thought “Well, I had to do it…” However. Putting your BFF search life online fpr all to see and comment on is, in my estimation, pretty brave.

    Oh, and I’d love some cookies, but my Mom said she’d have to meet your Mom first………..”you never know about people, Tom!”

  36. Pingback: What I’ve Learned From Friending So Far… | MWF Seeking BFF

  37. I think you are brave too, based on what I’ve read of your blog so far. It’s hard to make new friends and go outside your comfort zone. It even feels a little awkward telling your friends that you want to meet some new people, and when you ask them to bring one of their friends that you don’t know. I asked one of my friends yesterday if she wanted to go out to lunch, and to invite her friend that she’d talked about before but I’d never met. She asked me why I wanted him to come and wouldn’t that be awkward, but I said that I would like to meet him and it wouldn’t be awkward. Maybe it sounds a little weird to others that you are looking to make friends when you’re 18 in high school and should have your own friends. I do, but I don’t see the harm in actively trying to make more.

  38. I don’t know about making new friends, but I know it scared the &*$% out of me to tell a good friend-finally-that I really value her friendship. And after I did it successfully, I felt like it was an act worthy of a purple heart. So many people get freaked out and think you are crazy when you show your feelings that it is sometimes a heroic thing to do it.

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